The Weekly Preview: European Finals

Premiership front-runners Exeter Chiefs will be eyeing up a first Champions Cup victory with a win over Racing 92 on Saturday

Possibly the most turbulent season in rugby’s history reaches its grand finale this weekend as the European Challenge Cup and Champions Cup competitions come to a head. 

It’s an Anglo-French affair in both contests as in-form Bristol front up against Toulon in the final of the Challenge Cup tonight and Premiership front-runners Exeter meet giants Racing 92 in the Champions Cup final tomorrow. 

All four sides have now named their teams, but only two will go home with European silverware at the closing of events. Here we look at lineups, pick our hottest head-to-head battles and give our predictions ahead of what is set to be a perfect storm of entertaining rugby. 

 

Bristol Bears vs RC Toulon

Date: Friday, 16th October 2020. KO: 20:00 BST. Venue: Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence, France

Two ambitious rugby teams with an open style of play paints an exciting prospect for this European Challenge Cup final. Considering Toulon have won the Champions Cup three times and the Challenge Cup twice before, you might consider Bristol the underdogs of the contest.

But I wouldn’t be so quick to write Pat Lam’s men off. Their explosive playing style centres around free-flowing rugby and they’ve proven their ability to produce magic throughout both their European and Premiership campaigns this season.

The signing of Semi Radradra seems to have paid dividends for Lam and the Bristol outfit – The flying Fijian, who was recently named in the international squad for his country’s Autumn series, has been nothing short of spectacular this season and fits into the Bears’ playing style. 

The Bristol Bears team for their Challenge Cup clash with RC Toulon

 

Toulon have the advantage of test-level experience within their ranks. International legends of the game include Italian Sergio Parisse and World-Cup winner Eben Etzebeth pack down in the forwards while Louis Carbonel looks to control the back line. The 21-year old Frenchman has proven himself as a decisive play-maker; he’s certainly one to watch. These players aren’t strangers to high-pressure environments and I think this could give them the edge when it comes down to the wire. 

Former-Worcester man Bryce Heem is another eye-catching appointment in the Toulon lineup. The Kiwi-born winger signed for Toulon in February of 2019 and has been steadily developing as an all-round winger through Top 14 experience.  

Toulon will look to unleash Test-level experience in what is set to be a thriller

 

HEAD-TO-HEADS

Callum Sheedy vs Louis Carbonel

I’m really excited to see how these two young players cope under the pressure of European final rugby. Sheedy was recently announced in Wayne Pivac’s Welsh training squad for the upcoming 6 Nations and there’s no questioning his ability as a potentially game-changing fly-half. But how will he tame the threat of his opposite man in Louis Carbonel? 

Luke Morahan vs Bryce Heem

They last faced each other in the Premiership two years ago. Heem, playing for Worcester, scored his sides’ final try in a 52-7 pummelling over Bristol, in which Morahan played. Two years down the line and Bristol are looking a different team. With Morahan in the form of his career, the Bears winger will certainly be looking to continue with a trophy-winning performance.

PREDICTION

Bristol Bears 24-32 RC Toulon

 

Exeter Chiefs vs Racing 92

Date: Saturday, 17th October 2020. KO: 16:45 BST. Venue: Ashton Gate Stadium, UK

 

It’s a first Champions Cup Final for Exeter Chiefs in their entire history. The club has soared to the top flight of English rugby under the helm of Rob Baxter and recently secured a place in the Premiership final for the fifth consecutive year. They play ruthlessly in defence, beating down attacking lines and wearing down their opposition. The Chief’s are deadly in the opposition 22; they almost always score. 

But Racing are no strangers to high-pressure environments. They won this very trophy in 2016 and 2018 with wins over Saracen’s and Leinster respectively: Two teams with international calibre players in their ranks. This sets the stage for a European showdown like no other. Can Exeter make history ten years after their promotion to the top-flight? Or will Racing crush their dream to bag a third Champions Cup title?

Scotland and British Lions fullback Stuart Hogg has embraced life at Exeter and seems to have really fit in with the star-studded back line at the club. He is surrounded by quality in Jack Nowell and Henry Slade, who also have their names in the hat for selection for the Lion’s tour of South Africa next year. Joe Simmonds has been electric all season and has captured the eye of the public in recent seasons. Will he prove himself on the biggest stage of all?

Joe Simmonds captains the Chiefs as they travel up the M5 for their European showdown vs Racing 92.

 

Unless you are living under a rock, you’ve already seen the magical play that secured Racing’s win over Saracen’s in the final minutes of their semi-final clash. Scottish playmaker Finn Russell had spectators with their jaw to the ground with a scintillating chip over the top to Vakatawa, who then released Imhoff to bag the 19-15 win over defending champions Saracens. 

The French team also boast a wealth of international class; Irishman Simon Zebo starts at fullback while Frenchman Camille Chat packs down at hooker. Vrimi Vakatawa will certinly be one to watch, his thundering carries and silky-smooth offloads sure to cause trouble for the Chiefs. 

Racing 92’s lineup for their European Champions Cup clash against Exeter.

 

HEAD-TO-HEADS

Joe Simmonds vs Finn Russell

What a contest this will be at 10. Simmonds has been lauded for his stellar performances in both domestic and European competitions this year. Is he England’s next fly-half? Many fans seem to think he holds the answers for Eddie Jones. And what better stage to showcase his talent than up against Scotland star Finn Russell? This is a big test for Simmonds and I have no doubt that Jones will be watching closely.

Luke Cowan-Dickie vs Camille Chat

Two powerhouses with International experience battle it out at hooker. Cowan-Dickie has established himself as a clinical finisher at the whitewash, while Chat is known for his domination in open play. These are two very different players who are very good at what they do; it’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.

 

PREDICTION

Exeter Chiefs 23-19 Racing 92

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